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America's Cup - Russell Coutts takes charge at Manly Sailing Club

by Yachting NZ on 25 Jul 2017
Russell Coutts coaching Open BICs O'pen BIC New Zealand
Sir Russell Coutts has gone from running the America's Cup to running a small yacht club on Auckland's Hibiscus Coast, about 40 minutes north of Auckland

Coutts recently took over as commodore of the Manly Sailing Club and, according to long-time friend and vice commodore Harold Bennett, has been like a 'big dog with a bone' as he dives into the role.

'He's so passionate about it and has so many ideas,' Bennett said. 'He's really put his nose to the stone already.'

Coutts, who lives locally when he's in New Zealand, first became involved with the club last year to help boost the junior sailing programme at Manly. He made about 20 O'pen Bics available, a class he has been championing recently, and has also helped out with coaching and racing. He was more than willing to step up as commodore when the club had their AGM earlier this month.

'He can be commodore as long as he wants the job,' Bennett said. 'We don't have set terms here.

'He's said he's done with the America's Cup so has time and he's also said he needs something else to get his teeth into. All of a sudden, he's like a big dog with a bone.'

One of the more immediate issues to overcome is storage and facilities at the club, because his involvement has already seen an upsurge in membership.

A 20ft container was recently installed to house the O'pen Bics but demand for the learn to sail programme means they have already run out of room. The club have also approached council about extending their clubhouse.

'There's a fair bit going on,' Bennett said. 'With Russell as commodore, hopefully that will help various things move along.

'He's so passionate about the kids, juniors and learn to sail programme, and being involved in the sport. He has that drawing power and he can also go out and talk to people around things like sponsorship. Not only are new members being drawn to the club, and membership has gone through the roof, but we've also seen people who want to help. A couple of guys turned up who weren't members - one was from Parnell but had heard what was going on and that Russell was involved - and wanted to help.'

Coutts is presently offshore as he wraps up his commitments as America's Cup chief executive, and it was during his time in Bermuda that he discovered the potential of the O'pen Bic class. The O'pen Bic was launched in 2006 and is a more modern, faster boat than an Optimist and the class also puts more of an emphasis on fun rather than results.

'There was no real junior programme happening at Manly Sailing Club, it had sort of dropped off, and I think a lot of the barriers were the cost of buying a boat,' Coutts told last year. 'So we're getting these boats and making them available to more kids that perhaps wouldn't have the chance otherwise.'

Coutts still attracts a mixed reaction in this country, largely because of his defection to Alinghi and then Oracle, but it's hard to criticise his commitment to junior sailing in New Zealand.

Not only is he helping Manly, but he's also invested time and resources into other clubs like Ravensbourne Yacht Club in Dunedin, where he is a life member and first learned to sail, and the Wanaka Yacht and Powerboat Club - he has a holiday home in Central Otago.

He's also helped develop interest in the O'pen Bic at those two clubs, either donating time or boats (or both), and is patron of the Ravensbourne Youth Yachting Trust.

The five-time America's Cup winner addressed the Manly AGM after his election and outlined that they wanted to encourage more sailors and families to become involved and to also embrace other watersports.

They also hope to expand their junior programmes by developing closer relationships with local schools and want to begin running adult learn to sail courses and create a more regular club calendar of racing and fun events involving in a wider range of classes.

'We are so fortunate talented volunteers like Russell selflessly give their time to help out at yacht clubs around New Zealand,' Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie said, 'and, in Russell’s case, bring so many old friends back into the sport to volunteer themselves.'

Manly are due to host October's Yachting New Zealand youth trials, which are being used as a selection regatta for the NZL Foundation youth team to compete at December's Youth Sailing World Championships in Sanya, China.

About 80 children aged 14-19 will be battling it out in all five youth classes and it's fair to assume the new commodore of Manly won't be far from the action.

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